Apple has once again brought its formidable power to bear in the mobile world by dictating which carriers can provide LTE service to the iPhone. The company doesn’t allow its carrier partners to sell the iconic gadget as an LTE device, as Telecoms.com is reporting, until they pass Apple’s own tests for LTE network performance. The policy was confirmed by Swisscom, which launched an LTE network this week but can sell the iPhone 5 only as a 3G phone. Apple will issue a software update once Swisscom’s new network is considered up to snuff.
The reactions to this have been interesting: Eric Mack at CNET asks whether Apple’s next step will be demanding that would-be consumers take a user-education course, concluding that it “must be fun to be the most valuable company in the world.” TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington takes a more level-headed view, saying that Apple certainly appears to have the influence to employ a policy that “have a net benefit” on its brand and for its customers.
I agree with Etherington here, but I also think Apple runs the risk of selling iPhones (through carriers) that don’t leverage the faster networks. Too many users don’t understand what 4G is or why it’s superior to 3G, and iPhone buyers could end up blaming Apple if their iPhones aren’t as fast as their friends’ Android gadgets.
But the real story here is that this is Apple’s latest effort to wrest more power away from the carriers. Apple has successfully done that by tightly controlling its entire ecosystem, almost entirely removing carriers from the equation. This new policy now gives Apple a bit of control over the networks of its carrier partners. Apple is smart enough not to play hardball with this policy with any huge carriers, but it will be interesting to see if there’s any visible push-back from its smaller carrier partners.